By Juan M. Hincapie-Castillo and Amie J. Goodin
Policies to mitigate the drug overdose crisis continue to fall short, as evidenced by increasing rates of opioid-involved overdoses and deaths in the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this overdose crisis, and efforts are urgently needed to mitigate harm.
Individuals who have problematic opioid use are most frequently involved in opioid-involved overdoses, meaning that the use of a prescription opioid, or much more commonly a non-prescription opioid (such as non-medically sourced fentanyl or heroin), is used in a way that adversely affects the person’s life. Problematic opioid use may lead to a diagnosis of opioid use disorder (OUD). The medication buprenorphine has been proven to reduce opioid-involved overdose and harms and is one of few OUD treatments available as a prescription that can be dispensed by community pharmacies rather than from specialized facilities or specialty providers.
The federal government and several states have implemented strategies to improve and promote OUD treatment access, especially for the relatively inexpensive and effective medication buprenorphine. However, there are significant barriers that remain that preclude adequate and timely access to buprenorphine.